US presses Sudan, southern rebels for peace deal this week

April 6 (AFP)

The United States said Tuesday that peace talks between the government of Sudan and southern rebels had
reached a "make-or-break" point and pressed them to reach a deal by the end of this week.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell called Sudan Vice President Ali Osman Taha and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) leader John Garang over the weekend to impress on them Washington's desire to see a speedy conclusion to the negotiations, the State
Department said.

"The point that we are making to both the SPLA and the government of Sudan is that this is make-or-break time in the
negotiations," deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said.

"It's time to bring the process to a conclusion this week and that's what we're hoping to see," he told reporters, adding that the acting top US diplomat for Africa, Charles Snyder, was now at the site of the peace talks in Kenya.

Shortly before Ereli spoke, the lead Kenyan mediator for the negotiations, retired general Lazaro Sumbeiywo, said the two sides had reached agreement on power-sharing and the status of three disputed regions, which had been key outstanding issues in the marathon talks.

Sumbeiywo, speaking to AFP by phone from talks venue of Naivasha, northwest of Nairobi, said the two sides had asked for four or five days more "in order to sign something."

Specifics of the latest agreements were not immediately available, but they center on the administration of three disputed regions -- Abyei, Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile -- as well as the sharing of political and administrative posts.

While the disputed areas are not strictly part of southern Sudan, the SPLA claims to represent the people of the three regions.

Taha and Garang began a series of face-to-face negotiations in September last year after lower-level discussions aimed ending a civil war that broke out in 1983 were launched in Kenya in 2002.

In October, Powell visited Navaisha and secured a pledge from the two sides to reach a deal by December 31, 2003 after which they would be invited to Washington to meet with US President George W. Bush.

Since that deadline passed, Bush, who has invested much political capital in the peace process hoping to promote peace in a largely Islamic country, has grown impatient with delays and stepped up pressure on the two sides.

Sudan's long-running conflict resumed in 1983 when the south, where most people confess to Christianity and numerous traditional religions, took up arms to end the domination of the wealthier, Arabised and Muslim north.

Alongside famine and diseases, the civil war has claimed at least 1.5 million people and sent more than four million others fleeing their homes.